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Sentencing Guidelines

In 1984, Congress addressed the issue of fairness in sentencing by passing the Sentencing Reform Act. This Act created a new federal agency, the United States Sentencing Commission, and instructed it to develop uniform guidelines for sentencing in federal cases.

The guidelines were to be fair so that similar offenders convicted of similar crimes would receive similar sentences. The guidelines were also to be honest: the sentence received was to be the sentence served. Parole would be abolished. No longer would people turn what appeared to be a long sentence into a short one. (Inmates could still earn credits for good behavior, but this was limited to 54 days a year.) And the guidelines were to be certain. A person convicted of an offense would have a clear idea of the range of sentences he or she could receive.

The guidelines became effective November 1, 1987, and apply to all federal felonies and most serious misdemeanors. To learn more, please visit the United States Sentencing Commission's web-site at